Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I'm boarding the plane on my own for the first time since Jonah was born three and a half years ago. No little hand clasping mine, no voice at knee-height asking “are we on the hairplan yet Mummy?”. No Top-Gun style signalled conversations with Dave, still at ground level folding up the buggy with Lucas wriggling for freedom. Just me, a copy of the Observer to read in glorious silence, and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. It’s astonishing how quiet it is. And how speedy. Children are as notable by their absence as their presence, it turns out.


Dublin has been sun-washed today, its normal pallour replaced by a rosy glow. I pull out my phone and dial. “Home” flashes up on the screen. My boys, big and little, are out in the garden, starting the barbecue as requested by Jonah. Everyone is happy; there has been a trip to the park, and ice creams all round, and now there will be charcoaled sausages, and foil-wrapped bananas with molten chocolate chips. I visualise them as I speak to everyone in turn and realize something that is ridiculously obvious and incredibly good for me. These are my people, this is my family. There’s a place for me in it that’s unlike any other landing slot in my life.

I’ve always been terrible at getting on with things. It takes me an hour to get from the sofa to bed at night, distracted raccooning from one pretty-shiny thing to another before making it up the stairs. Which is why it’s taken me 3 ½ years to go away on a work trip. And it’s definitely time.  I’ve been holding on too tightly, standing too closely to my life, worrying that things will disintegrate without me there (delusions of self-importance, much?). And, of course, this all can only get in the way of enjoying it properly. Twenty four hours away is a chance to step off the roundabout and admire the view before leaping back on. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


It’s been six years now since we last lived the UK – a fact that I keep wanting to hold out at arm’s length like Yorick’s skull and gaze at quizzically. Just doesn’t seem possible, that one.

Prolonged absence is supposed to soften the needles of homesickness, but the trouble with needles is that they’re small and pointy and can interfere just when you’re least expecting it.

Every day I drop the kids off at nursery and drive the 20 minutes to work. I’ve got used to the huh??? qualities of Irish radio and have settled into its rhythms, knowing as I look at the clock after the daycare drop whether I’m going to be settling in to the hurling coverage (hurling involving men with sticks rather than booze and toilets) or whether we’ll have moved on to the National Ploughing Championships* .

About a month ago a new needle poked through. As I crest the brow of a particular hill, it turns out that the radio picks up a satellite in Prestatyn or something and British radio comes crackling into force. I’d never considered myself particularly nationalistic - madly in love with my birthplace, sure, but not brayingly English by any stretch. Nevertheless, there was something so heady about hearing traffic reports on roads that sounded familiar rather than trying to decipher where in the hell Sallynoggin might be and whether I should care.

At first, it was just Radio 1, which made me feel old relatively often, since the last time I regularly listened to Radio 1 was back in the 1980s. Then, oh blissful day, I hit upon Radio 4, which sometimes feels to me like the original NPR, but with distinctly more attitude. Very hard to be pissed off about being caught in traffic and late for work when what it gets you is Sebastian Faulks talking on Desert Island Discs about the inherent conflict between the interior mind of women (constantly “in a state of audit”, as he put it) and men (“intermittent”).

I can only get British radio for about 5 minutes, as I coast down the hill towards the sea (reasons to not hate my drive to work #2: I see the sea, for God’s sake! For a split second every day it’s like going to Devon when I was little and being on hyper-alert for that first glimpse of the water).

Five minutes of British radio does two things: it’s just short enough for me to get the slightly-sick feeling that comes with being far away and still feeling 12 years old, and it’s just long enough for me to want to start shouting at the radio. Good times.

*My favourite ever quote from the National Ploughing Championships came from an interview with a young farmer who’d made it through to the final of Freestyle Farrowing (I think I’ve made that up but it’s entirely possible that it’s a real category). The interviewer, fresh from the Lisbon Treaty, asked the farmer what it took to make it through to the final. “A tractor and a plough” came the reply. The interviewer, clearly realizing he’d have to use his piercing journalstic skills to get to the bottom of this, dug deeper (as it were): “No, what sort of qualities does it take?” The young farmer thought for a moment. “A really good tractor” came back the response. Game over.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Proof that living in this land of pervasive religiosity is rubbing off on me

This morning, I mistook the Tyrannosaurus Rex on the kitchen counter:

for the Virgin Mary:

What? You mean your toaster isn't nestling up next to holy statues/plastic dinosaurs?